[ from The Behavioral Scientist ] When we tell ourselves we can’t do something, it might just be that we are seeing something as more challenging than it really is. When we say that what we’re up against is the impossible, it might not appear that way to someone else—and it doesn’t have to look that way to us. Our eyes are incredible tools for shaping our experience. With them, we can quite literally see a new way forward.
Emily Balcetis conducted a series of experiments where we tested a strategy that motivates people to do something that might otherwise look insurmountable. We taught people trying to exercise better to look at the distance to a finish line using a technique we called keeping their “eyes on the prize.” They focused their gaze at the finish line and avoided looking around at anything else. Then we compared the effectiveness of this strategy with our baseline group, who looked around as they naturally would. Both groups practiced their visual strategy, then took off on a foot race.
Emily and her team found that people who kept their “eyes on the prize” said the exercise required 17 percent less exertion than the baseline group. It hurt less. And they walked 23 percent faster. Simply changing how people looked around when walking improved the quality of their exercise and made the goal seem easier to attain.